By Edward Sanderson
Today, many people are turning to mediation to relieve the stress in their lives. Some find meditation too difficult or boring and give up. Others stick with it and reap the benefits. There are meditation techniques that engage the mind making them easier for beginners. One good example is the Inner Smile visualization, which I describe below. Meditation has many other uses besides stress relief. Traditionally the primary reason to meditate has been to achieve some spiritual goal. According to Taoism, the ultimate spiritual goal is immortality. Over the centuries many Taoists have taken that quite literally, trying to achieve immortality in this very body, but what is really meant is achieving a state of mystical union with the universe. When you drop identification with the ego and identify with the universe, you do, in a sense, become immortal. Spiritual traditions from around the world have always discussed this divine union, using their own terminology. For instance Paul says, "Now not I, but Christ lives in me." In the Hindu tradition, the word yoga has the same root as the English words yoke and union. The final stage of yoga is union with the divine.
Taoists are very practical, and want to help people, no matter where they are in life. Whether you are looking for improved health, longevity, serenity, or immortality, Taoism has tools to help you reach your goals. And very often, the same tools can be used for multiple purposes.
How to Meditate
Most beginners struggle with trying to keep their minds still, and most give up because of the frustration or boredom of that task. I therefore recommend that beginners start with meditative techniques that keep the mind occupied. One meditation that I like to teach beginners is very good for helping with stress and improving physical health issues. It is called the Inner Smile. I have created an mp3 version for people who like guided meditations, but it is a very simple meditation.
Here is the most simple version. Start by closing your eyes and getting comfortable. It's nice to watch your breath for a minute to allow the mind to slow down. Then imagine someone smiling at you. It's best to imagine someone who's love, warmth, and/or friendliness you can actually feel, when you think about them. So feel those feelings and begin to reflect them back. Smile at that person, in your imagination, with as much feeling as you can. Then allow that image to fade and smile into your own eyes with just as much feeling. After that you can smile throughout your whole body, at your organs, limbs, joints, etc., or focus on areas in need of attention. Smile at each location for a few moments, until you feel a sense of relaxation or wellbeing. Two feelings to focus on, as you smile, are compassion and gratitude. If you are losing touch with the feelings, you can refresh them by going back to your eyes and bringing up the face again. Feel their warmth and reflect it back, until you can move on.
Although the Inner Smile is primarily a meditation used for healing, with modifications it can be used for spiritual practice, as well. However, my favorite Taoist meditation to use as a spiritual practice is Cherishing The One.
Cherishing The One
To be truly useful as a spiritual practice, Cherishing The One, should be a whole life practice and not just a meditation. When I teach it, I strip away the Taoist trappings because I believe people from any religion or spiritual tradition can make effective use of it. The premise is that we have within ourselves a spark of the divine light, and when we recognize that, we live our life differently. This meditation gets us in touch with that divine spark. When we live our lives with the memory of the presence of the divine spark, we treat ourselves with great respect and love, knowing we carry divinity within ourselves. This practice transforms our lives.
Here is how I usually teach the Cherishing The One meditation: Start in a comfortable posture for meditation and spend a minute or so watching your breath, to allow the mind to settle down. Imagine that there is a thread of light from the tip of your tail bone to the top of your head. Gradually allow the thread to get bigger, until you are sitting inside an orb of light. Then allow that orb of light to continue to expand until it fills the entire universe. Stay in that space for some time, imagining the entire universe being pervaded by divine light. Then allow the orb to shrink again. As it grows smaller it retains all of its immensity and brilliance. By the time it is a thread inside your body again, it is throbbing with intensity. Then allow the thread to shrink until it is a point of light. Visualize that light either in your Heart Chakra, at the center of your chest, or at your Crown Chakra, at the top of your head. Allow feelings such as awe, wonder, and gratitude to well up within you. Slowly allow the meditation to end and gently get up carrying the remembrance of your experience with you, throughout your day.
Taoism focuses on being content with where you are and what you have right now. Although it can take many years to make significant progress with meditation, you can enjoy the process and take delight in the small shifts in your awareness and serenity. As the weeks and months go by, meditation becomes easier and more enjoyable.
Edward Sanderson has been practicing meditation for over 25 years. Over the years the years he has taught mediation for healing in his acupuncture clinic and in self-healing classes. He and his wife Miruh, enjoy helping others in their path toward health and wholeness. Visit them at http://spiritualhealingjourney.com